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Divorce and Dogs
Great support or more pain?
Dogs influence the emotions in a divorce

“My best support came from my dog,” is a common sentiment among people who have been through a divorce. That’s no surprise given the well-known benefits of dogs. They ease feelings of loneliness, make us feel loved, encourage exercise, promote playfulness and facilitate social interactions. They don’t put pressure on us to cheer up, to get back out there or to stop dressing like a slob. They always seem glad to see us. There are countless ways that they make life better for people in any kind of emotional pain, including those whose marriages have ended.

On the other hand, if your ex gets custody of the dog, the agony of the split may be compounded. Not only is your spouse gone, but so is your dog. When I’ve talked to people who have not gotten custody and miss the dog, sometimes that pain seems more raw and intense than the loss of the human relationship. In some cases, that may be because the relationship with the dog is better and healthier than the marriage ever was, and sometimes the loss of the dog is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Either way, losing one’s dog adds to the pain of divorce.

It takes commitment to help a dog through the changes divorce brings. For some people, the focus on the dog is a helpful distraction, but for others, it’s just one more exhausting challenge. One friend of mine knew that her ex would be the best guardian for the dog because he works from home and runs with the dog every day. In contrast, she works long hours and travels a lot, and exercised the dog only on the weekends. To her credit, she did not fight for custody, although she does have visitation rights. She loves the dog, so in his interest, she agreed to a situation that she knew would be more painful to her, and it has been.

If you’ve gone through a divorce, how did your dog play into the pain and the process of healing?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.

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